Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Righteous Mind 1

1. Ye ol' Monday reading group is going through The Righteous Mind, by Jonathan Haidt this semester. David Vardaman suggested it and finds it worth a second read. Monday we chatted about chapter 1 (David was sick, Dave Ward was on assignment, Keith Drury is in Florida. So it was John Bray, Miranda Cruz, and Steve Horst, who has already used some of its material in his ethics class).

2. We can see where he is going and, for some of us, it's obvious. People generally start with their ethical beliefs and then find reasons to justify them. That is to say, most people don't reason out their sense of right and wrong. They start with certain moral intuitions and then find a way to justify them. Or as one person has said long ago before this book, they go to the Bible and slap verses on their intuitions.

We talked about the question of complete abstinence as an example. This intuition was formed in the 1700s and 1800s in the Wesleyan tradition and in American Christianity. But the reasons given for the intuition have varied and have been of various value? Did Jesus turn water into grape juice? Can one drop make you an alcoholic? If you get drunk once are you a drunkard? Is it a bad witness?

The reasons vary for the moral intuition. The intuition is primary, then we find reasons to justify it.

3. Haidt spends most of the chapter dismantling Lawrence Kohlberg and the "rationalist" school of moral development theory. Ain't so, he shows, and he has field research to prove it.

Kohlberg basically saw morality as something that children could figure out for themselves simply by talking through scenarios. But Haidt has shown from cross-cultural research (building on the work of Richard Shweder) that the moral intuitions of five year olds (and indeed adults) differ from culture to culture.

Westerners see harm as the basis of morality. Other cultures have other categories like disgust and disrespect. Also, he discovered that people with a higher socio-economic status around the world from culture to culture often have more in common in relation to morality than they have in common with their own cultures on their lowest socio-economic levels. (I wonder if we're seeing this in the current presidential cycle across parties.)

4. We have some elements of disgust in our culture (principly when it comes to poop and sexuality). We find it abhorent to think of someone privately eating their cat after it has died a natural death of old age. We can't quite come up with a good reason, but we just know you don't do that.

I'll leave it at that and go to work. There are many implications for understanding certain parts of the Bible, especially the OT purity laws. I was invoking the book this week even when talking about the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

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